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Acceptable Backpack Weight

I’ve been lurking on various Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail web communities for the past few months, watching the annual ritual of this year’s hikers trying to plan ahead as much as they can for the unknown. The questions never end– which sleeping bag to bring, how to resupply, what shoes to wear, are bear hangs necessary, are permits necessary, what food to eat, what’s the hardest hiking, the list goes on. But the questions that always baffle my mind are the variations of this: “Is my pack weight acceptable?”

Usually, the question takes the form “is it okay to take this pack?” I’ve seen several questions like “is it okay to take this extraneous item?” One hiker even approached me specifically to ask if bringing an extra pound of travel games was okay, since others in the web community had so vigorously argued against bringing them. I was astounded.

Ultralight Mini Uno

Ultralight Mini-Uno

For the past six years, my base pack weight has hovered between 8 and 11 pounds, depending on conditions. But even for me, weight is only the second most important factor in choosing gear to bring on a hike. There’s one factor that trumps all others, and that is “does it make me happy.”

Not everybody needs a light pack for happy hiking. Sometimes a book is part of the equation. Sometimes it’s your elaborate, but heavy, kitchen set. Sometimes it’s an SLR camera. Sometimes it’s a deck of cards. The final decision on what to bring on your hike has very little to do with a quantifiable number from a scale. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just plain wrong.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t think about the weight of your pack. Knowing the weight of your pack, and everything in it, is the smart thing to do. The reason we weigh our gear is to help make informed decisions about what to carry, but those informed decisions need to weigh all the factors. So the next time you begin to ask if packing something for your hike is acceptable, remember that you’re the only one who really knows the answer to your question. Don’t listen to anyone who would tell you otherwise– just remember to make informed decisions based on multiple criteria.

This post was written by former Trail Ambassador “Guthook” Ryan Linn

14 Responses to Acceptable Backpack Weight

  1. Grin'n March 31, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I agree, be smart and informed about your pack items. Weighing them does make you conscious about what you are taking, if it is needed and how happy you would really be taking it.
    My hiking buddy and I both restarted backpacking 3 yrs ago. A lot has changed in gear since my youth and for my buddy most of his ” hiking” was really military training. As we dove into the new world of lighter equipment and wonderful new gizmos, we got bit by the ultralight bug. Being older now, reason started to come back into play in our equipment selections. For example. We tried the thin pads and ultralight inflatables. My buddy has back problems from a late opening Shute during jumping drills and his sleep was restless and often woke up in pain the following morning. Packing a more luxurious sleeping pad would get a lot of flack from the ultralight crowd, but as for being the one backpacking with him, I get a better hiking buddy. He has reduced his weight sensibly in all other areas, thus his pack weight is light and reasonable.
    By no means am I an expert on the pack weight conversation. What I am is; open to adjusting what I bring and why on each backpacking trip. Enjoyment of the trip is the key goal. Hiking with a buddy in suffering because of lack of sleep or a heavy pack can ruin that. We found the middle of the trail on our issue. Find yours for yourself and you will be a happier hiker.

  2. JERMM March 31, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    I no longer weigh my I carry what I need to keep me safe, warm, dry and comfortable. I know my base weight is between 7-11 lbs depending on time of year. My camera always goes with me, and if I want a book or cards or music or a fly rod or water wings or anything else of my choosing I take it. I’m the one carrying and using it and it makes me happy.

    • Philip Werner April 1, 2014 at 7:52 am #

      Are the water wings a multi-purpose item?

      • JERMM April 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

        endless uses for water wings, Popeye forearms, stream crossing floatation device, water containers, small bug jars, place in a stuff sack for whopping buddies with, fake JLo butt cheeks for camp time dancing, knee bumpers for whoopsie times, pillow, oxygen container for high elevation hiking.

  3. jdrower April 4, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    Jermm – Can the water wings be inflated with helium to “lighten the load” and assist in that last 2,000-foot incline before making camp? Say yes . . . please.

    • Sage Brush April 4, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      Check out Klymit’s Universal Load Lifters.

      • jdrower April 4, 2014 at 8:33 am #

        Quite NOBLE!

    • JERMM April 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      absolutely positively yes…and when you reach camp and you want to sound like a munchkin and sing like you’re a member of the lollipop guild…you know what to do 🙂

  4. Max April 4, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    I couldn’t agree more with this article – thank you, Ryan! Too many people in the ultralight community fail to see the forest above the trees by becoming hyper-compulsive about weight regardless of any other factor. What needs to be taught in the ultralight schools is that there is a diminishing return on this investment. In other words, shaving your pack weight from 50 to 15 pounds makes a big difference with little cost to comfort, but shaving from 15 to 8 comes at a big cost to comfort/happiness!

    Personally, on my last trip I decided to bring a six-pack of beer! It totally made me happy, (and the empty cans weigh nothing!)

  5. Ed April 4, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    A book is a must for me, since I hike solo and like to sit up after dark. But I can still save weight by packing only _part_ of a book, i.e. a sheaf of xeroxed pages; just enough to keep me in reading matter for the duration. If I’m staying at designated sites and having campfires, I can even burn the pages and shed those burdensome micrograms as I go.

  6. Dana Law April 4, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    I carry 5 extra batteries for my S4 Cell, and a charger. (I believe solar chargers are still worthless) I’m now using my phone for, photos, video, Nav (Guthooks Guide!) and audio books so I was able to get rid of my Flip Video camera with 4 extra AA batteries.
    i have 288 miles on the Washington PCT in August. Hope this helps.
    See you on the trail.
    Dana Law

  7. Pete Chiarizio (@pchiarizio) April 4, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    I think it’s great that backpack weight went the way it did, and the choice of products to fit individual needs is a result. So to all of you Super Extra Ultra Feather Helium Balloon Weight Levitating Pack Long Distance Hikers – thanks and keep pushing the envelope please so I can pack more stuff for even greater happiness!

  8. Colin Parkinson April 8, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    Based on the empty beers cans I find deep in the woods the heaviest thing in the world is an empty beer can.

  9. Tom Andrews April 10, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Sometimes going ultralight is more about getting out of our comfort zones, foregoing what we think we normally need to be happy, and opening ourselves up to a different experience, becoming more meditative and more immersed in our natural environment, more aware and in the present. Birds singing, frogs in the pond, wind in the treetops, sunsets to contemplate. Sometimes less is more, much more.

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